1792 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Dr. Hugh Downman

Anna Seward to Hugh Downman, 15 March 1792; Letters, ed. Scott (1811) 3:120-22.



Sir, — I think myself honoured and obliged by the poetic present you have sent me, and by the gratifying and elegant sonnet which precedes its treasures. Your muse is not stranger to me. I have read, with delight, more than once, the poem, Infancy, by Dr. Downman of Exeter. It is an excellent didactic composition, in which the most material instructions are conveyed, through flowing numbers, and adorned by the picturesque graces.

These love elegies remind me of Hammond, and, like his, must interest every feeling and affectionate heart. Shall I confess that I like the introduction the least of any thing in this pleasing collection. Verse is, in its very nature, artful; though, what should be its essence, poetry, that is, the metaphors, allusions, and imagery, are the natural product of a glowing and raised imagination. There may be verse without poetry, and poetry without verse; but when the genuine bard assumes these fetters, which custom has prescribed him, surely no elegance, no ornament, is beneath his care, which may contribute to embellish them.

Our best poetry is frequently alliterative, viz. Milton's, Dryden's Pope's, Gray's, &c. and I am told the Greek and Latin classics use alliteration lavishly. A fine ear for the construction of numbers naturally falls into it. To such the avoiding it must be the care of art, much more than its occasional use.

If, by "The doubled couplet of monstrous length," is meant the compound epithet, that is one of the nerves of our science, enabling us to condense our sense, which must increase its force. If it means the using two or more adjectives to one substantive — that also, from the pen of genius, and when they are in climax, often produces admirable effects.

Pardon the freedom of this expostulation in defence of a practice you reprobate, and believe me much pleased to see Hygeia presenting the name of Downman to the Muses for their lists, in addition to those of Akenside, Armstrong, Garth, and Darwin.

I am, Sir, &c.